Uni High Reads

A book review blog of the Uni High Library

They Wish They Were Us by Jennifer Goodman

Are you looking for a murder mystery similar to The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder? How about a book with a group dynamic fraught with tensions and secrets like One of Us Is Lying? Look no further than Jessica Goodman’s They Wish They Were Us which just came in to Uni High Library ?

High school senior Jill Newman is part of Gold Coast Prep’s not-so-secret society, The Players, who rule over the student body and have access to everything they could ever want in life from test answers to favor with college admissions counselors. But when Jill was a Freshman, her charismatic best friend Shaila Arnold was murdered during a Player’s initiation ritual. Shaila’s boyfriend Graham confessed to the murder and the case was closed. UNTIL NOW! Just as Jill and the current senior Players are making plans to recruit the next group into the society, she starts receiving text messages telling her Graham is innocent, leading Jill to question everything she knows is true and has her confronting memories she has long-suppressed. Jill is desperate for the truth, but it’s definitely going to cost her. Her future? Her friendships? Her sanity? Quite possibly all three.

I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would. I’ve been trying to read a wider variety of books lately because often times I end up pleasantly surprised (a good lesson to all readers, I think!). The plot was a tad predictable, I’m not going to lie, but I loved the strong female characters enough that it kept me engaged all the way through. It’s also one of those books that’s really easy to devour, which can be a fun change of pace when you’ve been reading Six of Crows or The Name of the Wind (yes this is a shameless plug for the March Book Madness event you should definitely participate in at the library!)

It’s not a perfect read. Making one of the not-so-major characters gay did feel a little bit queer-baity, but on the whole I think this book did it exactly what it set out to do, just possibly with a few too many difficult topics and situations thrown in for the sake of “representation” rather than for actual plot furthering or serious discussion.

March Book Madness

(All book descriptions from Goodreads, except where noted!)

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo(#1)
35224992A story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

 

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (#2)
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Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As new member Mia gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. Soon, though, Mia reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

An inventive world, a breathtaking love story, and stunning art come together in this new work by award-winning artist Tillie Walden.

 

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson(#3)
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Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

This is the story of an investigation turned obsession, full of twists and turns and with an ending you’ll never expect.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M McManus (#4)
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One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (#5)

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Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.

The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.

A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

Student review by William King (November newsletter):

The Name of the Wind was described to me by a friend as “the best book to ever exist.” Just a few pages in, I was convinced. A story told in the hero’s own voice, this fantasy adventure shows the growth of one of Temerant’s finest wizards and most notorious adventurers, Kvothe. Rothfuss’s captivating storytelling makes even the dullest chapters hard to look away from, and his detailed and layered  writing lets you find something new every reread.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (#6)

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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (#7)12000020

Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (#8)32075671. sy475

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen (#9)44581495

Seventeen is nothing like Codi Teller imagined.

She’s never crashed a party, never stayed out too late. She’s never even been kissed. And it’s not just because she’s gay. It’s because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.

So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren’t for kids like them. They’re for cool kids. Straight kids.

But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia.

The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.

The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic (#10) 17259690

Neil Josten is the newest addition to the Palmetto State University Exy team. He’s short, he’s fast, he’s got a ton of potential—and he’s the runaway son of the murderous crime lord known as The Butcher.

Signing a contract with the PSU Foxes is the last thing a guy like Neil should do. The team is high profile and he doesn’t need sports crews broadcasting pictures of his face around the nation. His lies will hold up only so long under this kind of scrutiny and the truth will get him killed.

But Neil’s not the only one with secrets on the team. One of Neil’s new teammates is a friend from his old life, and Neil can’t walk away from him a second time. Neil has survived the last eight years by running. Maybe he’s finally found someone and something worth fighting for.

Student review by Jacque Butts (March Newsletter)

The Foxhole Court is the first book in the All for the Game Trilogy. It follows Neil, an 18 year old about to graduate high school when he gets scouted by the Palmetto State Foxes to play exy  (a fictional twist on lacrosse). The thing is, Neil isn’t his actual name: he’s been through several identities while on the run from his mafia-involved father. He joins the Foxes, while still trying to stay out of the public eye. This is a really good series and it’s currently my top favorite. I recommend it to all of my friends, especially if they love books with  plot twists and secret identity. It does get pretty graphic at some parts, but is well worth your time!

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune (#11)53205888

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (#12)33385229. sy475

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

Bleach by Tite Kubo (#13)2880

Ichigo Kurosaki never asked for the ability to see ghosts—he was born with the gift. When his family is attacked by a Hollow—a malevolent lost soul—Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper, dedicating his life to protecting the innocent and helping the tortured spirits themselves find peace. Find out why Tite Kubo’s Bleach has become an international manga smash-hit!

Ichigo Kurosaki has always been able to see ghosts, but this ability doesn’t change his life nearly as much as his close encounter with Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper and member of the mysterious Soul Society. While fighting a Hollow, an evil spirit that preys on humans who display psychic energy, Rukia attempts to lend Ichigo some of her powers so that he can save his family; but much to her surprise, Ichigo absorbs every last drop of her energy. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper himself, Ichigo quickly learns that the world he inhabits is one full of dangerous spirits and, along with Rukia–who is slowly regaining her powers–it’s Ichigo’s job to protect the innocent from Hollows and help the spirits themselves find peace.

Orange by Ichigo Takano(#14)25667474

On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one, Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny? This is the heart-wrenching sci-fi romance that has over million copies in print in Japan!

Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth (#15) 55100346

Aideen has plenty of problems she can’t fix. Her best (and only) friend is pulling away. Her mother’s drinking problem is a constant concern. She’s even running out of outlandish diseases to fake so she can skip PE.

But when Aideen stumbles on her nemesis, overachiever Meabh Kowalski, in the midst of a full-blown meltdown, she sees a problem that—unlike her own disaster of a life—seems refreshingly easy to solve. Meabh is desperate to escape her crushing pile of extracurriculars. Aideen volunteers to help. By pushing Meabh down the stairs.

Problem? Solved. Meabh’s sprained ankle is the perfect excuse to ditch her overwhelming schedule. But when another student learns about their little scheme and brings Aideen another “client” who needs her “help,” it kicks off a semester of traded favors, ill-advised hijinks, and an unexpected chance at love. Fixing other people’s problems won’t fix her own, but it might be the push she needs to start.

Student review by Callie Standerfer (September Newsletter)

Not My Problem By Ciara Smyth is a hilarious queer YA book following main character Aideen who, as a distraction from her own problems, starts a business of helping fix people’s problems. There is never a dull plot moment since the main character always has an issue to solve. One aspect of the book I really liked was the main character’s dynamics. Very chaotic -good friend group energy! Be warned, this book does not stray away from hitting heavy topics like addictions and mental health. I recommend this to anyone looking for an eventful coming of age story.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (#16) 30653843. sy475

Frances has been a study machine with one goal. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. Then Frances meets Aled, and for the first time she’s unafraid to be herself.

So when the fragile trust between them is broken, Frances is caught between who she was and who she longs to be. Now Frances knows that she has to confront her past. To confess why Carys disappeared…

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

Engaging with themes of identity, diversity and the freedom to choose, Radio Silence is a tour de force by the most exciting writer of her generation.

Student Review by Savindi Devmal (October Newsletter)

You’ve encountered yet another pointless romance between the lead female and male characters. Annoying, right? Then I recommend Radio Silence by Alice Oseman! The novel follows Frances Janvier as she discovers that her past best friend’s brother created her favorite podcast, starting an incredibly close friendship; its representation of close male-female friendships is commendable, and when there is romance, it includes gay and asexual representation. If you’re bored with many YA novels’ relationships, then Radio Silence will be a breath of fresh air!


Posted by Newman-Johnson Charlie at 9:12 pm

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Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea was the second book I read in 2021, and honestly everything else after it kind of paled in comparison. So you may be wondering why I decided that two months into 2022 was the perfect time to read his latest adult novel Under the Whispering Door? I could tell you it was because I’m a bit of a masochist and knew that Klunes’ book would more than likely leave me in tears, or that I was sick of avoiding book spoilers on the internet. But the truth is much simpler-I’ve been in a bit of bookish turmoil! I’ve been plowing through books, many of which are HIGHLY regarded in the literary community and they are just not landing for me. So I turned to an author that never lets me down and set out on the journey that is reading Under the Whispering Door.

In the book, Wallace Price is not what we would call a “good person”. In life, he was a lawyer whose only goal was to win cases and maintain order in his life. When he suddenly wakes up attending his own funeral, everything he thought he knew about himself, his existence, and the world gets completely shaken up. Mei is Wallace’s Reaper, meaning she is charged with getting Wallace from his funeral to Charon’s Crossing, a tea shop in the woods owned my the enigmatic and oh-so-charming Ferryman, Hugo. By day, Hugo runs Charon’s Crossing with Mei, providing tea and treats to travelers and regulars alike. But his real job as a Ferryman means he helps people cross over from this life into the next. And Wallace may just be his hardest case yet.

I adored this book, much like I’ve adored everything else by TJ Klune I’ve read. He has a way of speaking directly to my soul and telling it that everything is going to be okay! Also, it doesn’t hurt that all of his books are brimming with Queer identities and situations. Gotta love it!

This book is beautiful. From the cover design, to the delicately crafted sentences, to the equally parts heart-warming and heart-wrenching final pages. Packed with wonderfully real and emotionally complex characters as well as supernatural musings and mystical elements, this is not a book that you will soon forget about. Find Under the Whispering Door on Uni High’s shelves today! You won’t regret it!

CW: This book contains depictions and discussions of death, including death by suicide.

Summer Reading

Choose your own summer reading adventure! Starting at the top of the chart, choose which arrow to follow to your next summer reading. Once you’ve read your way to the bottom, send us your booklist via Discord (specifying which book fills which challenge) to be entered into the prize raffle at the beginning of the school year.

FAQ:

What if I just want to read five books, and not bother with the chart?

You won’t be entered into the raffle, but you will still win some candy and a book!

What if I’m a senior? Can I still enter?

Yes! You can either arrange to pick up prizes before you leave town, if you’re leaving, or we can make arrangements with your family. Reading is good for you after you graduate too 🙂

What if I read ten books? Can I fill out the chart twice for two raffle entries?

Each chart needs to have five unique books (not shared with the other one) but sure, if you wanna go hard, we’ll reward you. You’ll get an extra raffle entry but not an extra book or candy.

Does [book I read] count for [challenge on the chart]?

Probably! It’s honor system, really, so it’s up to you. If you read something pink and your favorite color is actually magenta. It’s pretty clear if something was released before 2010 or not.

About that– does 2010 count as before 2010?

Sure, why not.

I have a question that’s apparently not frequently asked?

Come on over to the Discord and ask!

 


Posted by Newman-Johnson Charlie at 8:04 pm

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Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

This past fall (not long ago when I’m writing this, but a lifetime ago by May when the book releases), I saw the author of this book, Dahlia Adler, discussing the book on a panel, and I was immediately interested. Bisexuality is kind of a tricky thing to cover in a novel-sized story– yes, every book and their mother has a love triangle, but how do you resolve that without it making it feel like the character is ‘picking’ being straight or gay?

Well, the short answer is you let them have their cake, and eat it too (not necessarily at the same time). In Cool for the Summer, the main character Lara has been pining after football star Chase for years, and the book starts with him asking her on a date! Mission accomplished! Book over! Right? Well, no. In the main timeline of the book, Lara and Chase do date– but the summer before, Lara found summer love, Grease-style, at the beach with Jasmine. The book is basically two romances in one, as both relationships develop in their own timeline.

The complication: after all-but-ghosting Lara, Jasmine shows up at her high school on the first day of the semester as a transfer student. What does she want? For that matter, what does Lara want?

I really loved this book. The plot is engaging, the pacing is tight, the writing is good. but above all, the characters are exceptional. Lara has a great friend group: her best friend Shannon is the HBIC, Gia is a thoughtful friend and a kind, nuanced take on “that girl you know who’s been dating the same guy for all of high school and is hoping to make it work in college”, and Kiki– well, Kiki makes a true crime podcast and is paying more attention than anyone might guess (Kiki is my favorite). Jasmine and Chase are both rich characters too: Chase is a total sweetheart who wears his heart on his sleeve, while Jasmine is complicated and hard for Lara to read in a really realistic way.

My personal favorite detail is some excellent Jewish rep: both Lara and Jasmine are Jewish, but on very different parts of the religiousness spectrum. Lara’s experience of going to Jasmine’s traditional Shabbat (sabbath) dinner really resonated with me. Despite feeling slightly out of place, she feels welcomed nonetheless, and like part of her identity is affirmed. I’ve had similar experiences, of attending more religious Jewish events and feeling that way, and it was really cool to see it portrayed so well in this book.

I do want to mention that the book isn’t shy about sex. On the romance novel spectrum of “chaste fade to black” to “extremely saucy” it’s somewhere in the middle, probably. For older teens this probably won’t be particularly out of line with other things you’re reading, but for our younger readers make sure you’re comfortable with that! If you don’t think you are, that is perfectly fine, and this book will be there for you if and when you want it.

All in all, I would highly recommend bringing this with you on any beach trips– I can’t think of many books that would be better to read on a beach towel! Especially if you happen to be headed to the Outer Banks. Even if you’re inside in the AC trying to stay cool for the summer, though, you should check it out if you like romance, books with multiple timelines, and great, nuanced queer representation.


Posted by Newman-Johnson Charlie at 12:20 pm

Posted in Uni High Reads

 

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

 

I loved ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ and ‘The City in the Middle of the Night’, and was overjoyed to see that Charlie Jane Anders was taking her first stab at YA. I was even more excited to be able to get it as an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy)! I read this book back in October, but scheduled it to publish today, April 13, when the book is coming out.

A quick plot synopsis: Tina has known since she was thirteen that she had a higher calling– literally. Some day, someone would be coming from the stars to whisk her away to resume her post as one of the most celebrated heroes of the Royal Fleet. See, Tina is a clone of the fallen Captain Argentian, who gave her life to save her crew. When the Fleet comes calling, Tina/Argentian is their greatest hope in their fight against the insidious Compassion, but Tina struggles with this expectation. With Tina and a ragtag band of other Earthlings along for the ride, the crew of HMSS Indomitable strike out across the stars to find the means to stop the Compassion’s scourge.

This is a fast-moving sci-fi adventure with a fun cast of teen protagonists from all over the world. Although the book is a little bit jumpy, hopping from incident to incident, there’s very little downtime, and the whole last hundred pages is one long hype-train roller coaster. I love some good space combat scenes! I also loved a lot of the questions the book posed about things like humanoid bias and the interactions of cultures. It’s definitely not hard sci-fi, but encompasses enough plausible specifics to explore interesting questions. Oh, and if you’ve played Mass Effect I think you’ll see some inspiration in this book.

From a queer/social justice perspective, this book has a lot to offer. First, the normalization of pronouns other than he/she was great, especially the default inclusion of pronouns in introductions. One great moment was someone says what her pronouns are before declaring the protagonists are her prisoners. Amazing. Homophobia doesn’t exist in the Royal Fleet, and why should it?  I love when authors are willing to leave behind problems that exist in our society and envision a better one– while homophobia can be a source of realistic conflict, there are enough other problems in space!

While there are some minor bumpy parts in the book, largely caused by the amount of exposition that gets packed in, it was a still an awesome read that I devoured in a single day– and I’m even more excited for the rest of the series, whenever it might be coming out! Also, if you read this and like it, the author’s other books are amazing, especially All The Birds in the Sky.

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore, is the fourth book set in the Graceling realms, and is releasing today, January 19th. It’s been almost nine years since the last book in the series came out. In reviewing a book deep into a series like this one, I’m reviewing for two groups of people: those who have read and liked the rest of the series, and those who haven’t checked it out yet. (Those of you out there who read Graceling and didn’t like it are cool too! But I’m assuming you’re pretty sure this isn’t your cup of tea). The first group is probably worried, as I was, that Winterkeep wouldn’t hold up. There’s been a lot of YA series necromancy lately, and it hasn’t always been good. The second group might be wondering if they need to read three other books for this one to make sense.

Fortunately, I have one unified recommendation for everyone: this book is worth a read!

Cover of Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore

Set some time after the events of Bitterblue, Winterkeep (like Fire before it) takes place in a new land, with lots of new characters, but some familiar ones. The Kingdom of Winterkeep is much more technologically advanced than Monsea, the land the main character Bitterblue is queen of, and this allows the book to largely stand alone. While this might be frustrating for some loyal readers who want to see more of their favorite characters, it’s a tough balance: bringing old characters whose story arc has resolved in for a cameo risks reducing someone who was dynamic and interesting to a cardboard cutout. In choosing only a few old characters to keep, and ones who didn’t reach happy endings, Cashore is able to give them all a full character arc. It also means there’s not much that needs to be filled in from the past, and I think Cashore did a good job weaving in some explanation for anyone who is reading a Graceling book for the first time.

With that explanation of where the book sits out of the way, here’s a quick synopsis. After learning two of her envoys to Winterkeep have died at sea, and that it might not have been an accident, Queen Bitterblue of Monsea sets out for a personal voyage to Winterkeep. On the other continent, plotting and politics are afoot: the Keepish parliament is deadlocked in a political battle over industrialization, others besides the envoys have gone missing, and Lovisa, a POV character new to the series, is caught up in the intrigue. Her parents are, oddly, the heads of the bitterly opposed political parties, and everything going on seems to be swirling around them. Lovisa is intensely curious about what her parents are doing– but can she snoop without getting caught?

Winterkeep is a somewhat rare mashup of genres that I absolutely adore: it’s fantasy, but with all of the crucial aspects of a real mystery novel. Another recent book, Gideon the Ninth, had a similar blend, and ever since I’ve been on the lookout for more books like it (I’ve found a couple others, as well, if you want recommendations). I think there’s something really cool about a mystery story structure in a fantasy world: the investigation the characters undertake reveal things about the world through a close-up lens that would otherwise feel forced. In Winterkeep, for example, Lovisa’s curiosity is a perfect vehicle to get the reader a really good look at the intrigue that’s going on, and some of the clues are hidden in places that wouldn’t make sense in the real world (sentient animals, for example). The great double-twist on this is the characters all, at the end of the book, are empowered by what they learned solving mysteries to try to make the world a better place.

This deeper exploration was great, because I love the world of Winterkeep. While it was initially a little confusing as a long-time reader to leave Monsea and the Seven Kingdoms behind, Winterkeep is in many ways a more interesting place. The blend of science and magic is really cool! This was present a little bit in the earlier Graceling books, in the ways some characters were pushing the boundaries of medieval medicine and architecture, but Winterkeep is much more advanced. At the same time, though, there are magics unique to Winterkeep– particularly, sentient animals that can communicate telepathically, although humans are somewhat blind to their true nature.

The last thing I loved about the book is the balance it strikes between dark subjects, like childhood trauma, and a fierce, infectious hopefulness. Readers of Bitterblue will remember that Bitterblue had an alarmingly difficult childhood, and Lovisa hasn’t had it easy either. Both cope with this in very specific, realistic ways– one of Lovisa’s, in particular, really moved me. Neither character is  weak or helpless, and anyone who underestimates them discovers their mistake before too long, and both have found meaningful ways forward by the end of the book.

No book is perfect, and there are a couple things that did jar me out of the world a little bit. Some of the aspects of Keepish culture are a little bit too contrived and cute for me, and though they present interesting obstacles to characters, I found myself thinking, “Okay, but how did this even come to be?” If you’re looking for a mystery with good twists, or a fantasy novel with a cool world and good characters, or are intrigued by the idea of both, I strongly recommend you give this a try, whether or not you’ve read any of the other books. If you like it a lot, you can check the others out without too much being spoiled, and after Graceling, I think it’s the second-strongest book in the series.

And if you liked the other Graceling books, what are you still doing reading this?? Go request a copy of Winterkeep!

The TL;DR

What: Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore

Who should read it: Fans of the Graceling Realms books, or fantasy readers intrigued by offbeat fantasy with some mystery

Why they should read it: Strong female leads, great twists, awesome world-building, and a hopeful ending


Posted by Newman-Johnson Charlie at 9:35 pm

Posted in Uni High Reads

 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

I don’t want to speak for anyone but myself, but I don’t have much interest in coming out stories in my queer YA. Coming out stories are important and powerful, but in some ways they’ve been obscuring other aspects of the lives of queer people. Lately, I’ve been more into stories where the sexuality of the main character is central to the book, but not at all central to the book’s conflict. I’ve seen this most in fantasy, in books like Crier’s War by Nina Varela or Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. The author has license to make up a world where who the main character loves is not an issue.

Book cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. Two girls stand under a streetlamp in Chinatown in San Francisco in the foreground, with a cable car going up a steep hill in the background.

What I’ve been realizing, though, is that queer fiction set in our world is almost always going to have some component of coming out or identity exploration to it, because queer lives in our world almost always do as well. With that in mind, I’ve been looking for books that handle this well. To me, that means telling a story more about the character’s exploration of their own identity, rather than how it relates to people around them like their family or friends (although this will always be a part of it). In this light, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo, might be my new standard to judge coming out books by.

A quick blurb: In 1950s Chinatown, Chinese-American teenager Lily Hu is captivated by a newspaper ad for male impersonator Tommy Andrews, who performs at the Telegraph Club, but would likely never do anything about it- until she discovers her classmate, Kath, has been to the Telegraph Club before. Would Lily like to go there with Kath, sometime, maybe? Over her senior year of high school, Lily discovers who she is, who she loves, and what her life might look like, against a backdrop of Communist anxiety amid post-war prosperity.

I loved a whole lot about this book, but I want to focus on a few things in particular I thought were really good: Lily’s journey of self-discovery, a realistic coming-out story, and great historical details that made me want to learn more.

Book Twitter has joked about the amount of ‘noticing’ that happens in this book, but it’s important: Lily’s self-discovery is about noticing things, and noticing what she notices. Sorry for that confusing sentence, I’ll clarify: from the beginning of the book, Lily is noticing things that her friends might not. Her noticing the picture of Tommy Andrews is the catalyst of the plot, and we can see through her 3rd person narration that she’s noticing the clothes women wear, or the way Kath’s hands feel in hers. She also mostly doesn’t notice boys: the author seems to have taken care to very rarely describe boys visually or in much detail, because that’s not what Lily is noticing. From the very beginning, it’s clear to the reader that Lily isn’t straight, even if she doesn’t know it yet. The real discovery happens as Lily becomes aware of what she’s noticing: a romance novel with two women she can’t stop reading snippets of, or the slightly masculine way that Kath is dressing.

Of course, as Lily discovers herself and her identity, it will affect her relationships, and the 1950s weren’t a good time to be queer. I was worried that the coming out story of the book was going to be one of two things: fake, where Lily finds full acceptance from her family despite the era and circumstances, or too brutal, where Lily gets caught and suffers. Instead, something in between happens, in a way that honestly really surprised me. I can’t say too much without spoilers, but the way things unfold caught me off-guard in how complex everyone’s reaction was. Characters weren’t split into ‘supportive’ and ‘not-supportive’ factions– there was at least a little bit of both in everyone. That felt realistic and truthful in a way that some coming out stories have not felt, to me personally at least.

Finally, the historical parts of this book are amazingly vivid and well-researched. I knew some about the Communist takeover of China, but I’d never thought much about how it would be perceived from America, or how it might affect Chinese-Americans. The minutiae of San Francisco, as seen by a Chinese-American teenager going to illegal lesbian bars, make it come alive as a real place and time. I don’t read much historical fiction but this book has made me look for a couple more like it to read this year. Lo also has a few pages at the back of the book that summarize some of her research. I usually skip these, to be quite honest, but I read them this time because the book had made me want to know more!

My one reservation in recommending this book is that, while amazing and moving, it’s not a particularly light read. Beyond some mild sexual content and a difficult ending, Lily and Kath are lying about their age to get into a bar, and as a result have some questionable interactions with adults who should know better. Nothing bad happens to either of them on this front, but it was a little bit uncomfortable for me to read, even as an adult. I’ve been trying to read more light stuff lately, with the real world as heavy as it is, but if you have the emotional budget for a book that will make you cry a bit I’d highly recommend Last Night at the Telegraph Club.

The TL;DR

What: Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo

Who should read it: Older teens who like historical fiction and/or queer fiction

Why they should read it: Great characters, ‘gritty’ realism without being edgy, excellent queer #OwnVoices
(everyone should read Malinda Lo, if not this book read Ash)


Posted by Newman-Johnson Charlie at 12:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

 

NaNoWriMo Novels

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo– this month, many writers are embarking on quests to write 50,000 words before the 30th (1,667 words per day!). Is it worth doing? For these nine authors, yes! In one way or another, these novels are products of NaNoWriMo, and should serve as inspiration for anyone trying to write their way to the big 50k. What you’re doing is worthwhile even if you don’t get published, but hey, you just might.

9 books written during NaNoWriMo-- full information below

Here’s a list of these books, and where to find them. Call numbers refer to the Uni High collection, and can be requested by email! Other books are available at your local libraries, many in Pandemic-Approved digital formats.

  • With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo AC37wi
  • The Compound by S.A. Bodeen Champaign Public Library (CPL), print or audio
  • Alienated by Melissa Landers CPL, digital and print
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer M575Lu1
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern CPL
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephenie Perkins P4198an
  • Zero Repeat Forever by G.S. Prendergast CPL
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell R795f
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Cary Ryan CPL digital formats

My (Charlie’s) personal favorite of these is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The book is about a mysterious circus that comes and goes in the night, and serves as the arena for a long, drawn-out magical competition between the two acolytes of different schools of magic. Secretly, the book is actually about theater and performance, and the lush descriptions of magical interactive theater pieces between chapters are my favorite part of the book. If you like #EnemiesToLovers and cool magic, this is definitely for you. (And no creepy clowns!)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer has also been a popular book at the Uni Library since its release. With androids, cyborgs, plagues, and intrigue, this is the first in a series many find hard to put down, and I’ve been very much meaning to pick up. If anyone who has read it and loved it would like to write a brief review, let us know! We would happily host it here and credit you.

[brief disclaimer: I, Charlie, have done NaNoWriMo three times, finished my word count twice, and not produced novels nearly this good. I think NaNoWriMo is worth doing even if you write 50,000 words then put them in a digital drawer to never be seen again! These books should demonstrate, though, that it is not just a futile speedwriting effort. What you make has worth, because no one else could have made it!]

 


Posted by Newman-Johnson Charlie at 4:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized